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Hazelwood Inquiry – Week 1 report
We are now entering the second week of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry public hearings, which will focus on the environmental effects and health issues brought about by the mine fire.
The Inquiry spent last week gathering information on the origin, circumstances and responses to the fire from Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley, GDF SUEZ representatives, Incident Controllers, WorkCover and community witnesses. This included a volunteer from Cowwarr, as well as Willow Grove brigade, who were called due to their individual community ranked submissions.
We’d like to thank everyone who has participated so far by submitting witness statements, and in some instances taken the stand. Our members have done an outstanding job in providing some true context around the challenges faced throughout one of the most complex and difficult incidents in our history.
Regional Director Bob Barry, who worked as Incident Controller for the majority of the incident, provided a thorough understanding of the strategies used to fight the fire, which included building new water reticulation systems and experimenting with innovative firefighting foam techniques to find the most effective for the job.
Bob praised firefighters and incident management team staff for their commitment throughout the fire and described his use of proactive media to deal with the challenge of keeping morale high throughout the tough and dirty job – now widely likened to ‘eating an elephant one bite at a time’.
Deputy Chief Officer John Haynes, Incident Controller for a significant period of the fire, described innovations such as ‘hot changeovers’ to reduce downtime while swapping firefighting crews every two hours, as well as community engagement tactics such as the information buses and sending community liaison officers to speak with train commuters.
This engagement effort was supported by community witness Tracey Lund, who works for the Morwell Neighbourhood House and was highly complimentary of CFA’s level of activity in the community, and appreciative of the support and information provided throughout the incident.
We would like to thank the remaining Incident Controllers – Stephen Walls, Simon Bloink, Ross Sullivan and Barry Foss – who were originally called and supported CFA to make statements but were later stood down as not required by the Board of Inquiry, which was satisfied with the level of evidence provided by CFA.
The week finished with a focus on firefighter safety and Commissioner Lapsley described the introduction of what is considered to be the largest health monitoring program of its kind, which saw a total of almost 61,000 tests conducted – including mine staff who followed CFA’s lead and joined in on the initiative.
Once again, the evidence provided last week truly illustrates the great work done by everyone who attended and suppressed what is considered the largest mine fire in Australia’s history. However, there will no doubt be areas for improvement and procedural review. These will form part of the Board of Inquiry’s recommendations which will be handed down as part of the final report, due by the end of August.
There is the potential for more CFA people to be called to address the Inquiry, and the Inquiry team will assist them with any welfare and logistics support required. More information about CFA’s welfare services can be found on Brigades Online, by contacting your Regional Office or CFA’s Organisational Wellbeing team on (03) 9262 8836.
Peter Schmidt and Karen Alexander
Joint Directors Hazelwood Mine Inquiry